The digital revolution means it isn’t just big companies and established authors getting into the e-book app game—anyone with an idea, some start-up capital and tech know-how can now successfully bring a high-quality e-book app to market. That is exactly what happened with three friends with technology backgrounds who wanted to give their children books, not video games, to occupy themselves at the grocery store. The result is iStoryTime, an e-book platform for iPhone and Android OS that is getting children’s books by new authors—many of them without print book contracts—into kids’ hands.
Binky the Pink Elephant is one of several picture books available via iStorytime.
According to Graham Farrar, president of FrogDog Media, the company behind iStoryTime, there are currently seven iStoryTime titles available for the iPhone, a couple more for Android, and he hopes to have 20 by the end of the year. Despite the fact that the authors are unestablished, some of the iStoryTime titles are selling “hundreds of copies a day” from the iPhone and Android app stores, according to Farrar. The company launched in April with a picture book called The Wiener Dog Magnet, and has also had success with a book called Binky the Pink Elephant.Now, after articles about the company appeared in the Los Angeles Times and many other smaller venues, Farrar said they have sold in the tens of thousands of units.
“I have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter,” said Farrar, explaining the genesis of the company, “and we used to bring books for her on airplanes and road trips. Then my wife and I both ended up getting iPhones, and my daughter wanted to play with the phone. At first it was video games and Baby Einstein, which was fine in small doses, but not what I wanted her to spend her time with. But convenience was winning out over content.”
A screenshot from The Weiner Dog Magnet, another iStorytime title.
From that frustration came the idea for iStoryTime. “We didn’t want it to be a video game,” Farrar said. “We wanted it to be a book, so that’s part of the reason it’s a picture book, with words on page and an audio narrator, but you can turn the audio off if you want to read it yourself.”
Farrar and his partners tested the product on their own kids. “One thing you’ll notice is that there are basically no features,” he said. :“You can’t click and have it make noises. This was a conscious decision as we watched our two- and three-year-olds. While those things may be fun for adults, they were sources of confusion for the kids. Basically you can move forward or backward a page. We kept the experience very pure.”
This is a different way of thinking about enhanced e-books from, say, ScrollMotion, which is all about adding functionality to books to make them more interactive. “We’re going to stay away from features that you wouldn’t associate with a reading experience,” said Farrar.
As far as why FrogDog isn’t going after the Scholastics and Random Houses of the world, Farrar initially wasn’t sure the big houses would be interested in an untested product, saying, “Part of the reason you see a lot of the first titles are by new authors is that they were the only people who let me use their books.” Nonetheless, FrogDog only buys rights for electronic mobile distribution, so a FrogDog author could sell the same book to a print publisher. Now Farrar says he is inundated with interested authors, both more and less established. “I thought my challenge was going to be where to get the content. Now that we have some notoriety, it’s about all I can to do keep up with the submission requests.”
And Farrar sees other advantages to working with unknown authors. “We’re trying to keep the price point down, which lends itself to people without an established market.” All the iStoryTime apps are $1.99. Farrar does hope to approach big publishers down the line. “We would like to show the model is successful, then get the Dr. Seusses and Goodnight Moons.”